"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What Mauer Means

The Twins will be without starting catcher Joe Mauer for at least two weeks after an MRI revealed a strain in his left quad muscle and the team placed him on the 15-day disabled list.
Mauer has been battling a sore quad for nearly the entire first month of the season, but he only felt the increased pain and stiffness in his leg on Friday night while running the bases in a game against the Red Sox. He came to the park on Saturday and took batting practice before having to pull himself out of the lineup.
And after seeing the results of Mauer's MRI on Sunday morning, the Twins made the decision that it was most important to give the catcher time to let the injury heal.
"He's a catcher and squatting a lot, so we have to let this thing calm down," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's been fighting it and trying to play through it. Now, it's just time to let it get better. There is some swelling in there and we have to protect that young man. We need him down the road."

Obviously, losing the reigning AL batting champion sucks, especially when much of the rest of your lineup is injured or slumping or both. Losing a damn fine starting catcher in the same person really sucks, even when you have (arguably) the best backup catcher in baseball to fill in.

But while that .353 batting average will be sorely missed, Mauer means a lot more to this team that a hit every 2.83 at-bats.

"A good catcher is the quarterback, the carburetor, the lead dog, the pulse taker, the traffic cop and sometimes a lot of unprintable things, but no team gets very far without one." --Miller Huggins
I don't care how good your pitching staff is, it's going to struggle without a decent catcher. A bad catcher causes arguments, stress, wasted time, and missed plays. A competent catcher allows a staff to do their jobs with a minimum amount of fuss. A good catcher can elevate a pitching staff into more than the sum of its parts.

Out here in the stands, we don't really know how much direction Joe Mauer takes from the dugout, how many strategies have been agreed upon before the game, or what the guy on the mound thinks of the guy behind the plate. What we do know is that you don't often see a pitcher shake him off, that he's caught a Cy Young winner twice and the best bullpen around several times, not to mention handling prima donnas like Kyle Lohse and JC Romero without ever visibly losing his cool.

We know that he's one of the best-fielding catchers in the league, the numbers bear that out. We know he's got a fair arm, good range, a low error rate and that he compiled those numbers over a whole lot of innings. We know he's one of the very few starting catchers in baseball this season who has yet to post either an error or a passed ball.

Various members of the Twins staff are struggling mightily at present (and certain of them would be struggling if they could be made to put that much effort into the task), and while Mike Redmond is a damn fine backup catcher, he's not used to catching every day. The weeks ahead will wear on him, physically and mentally.

"In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted, if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end."
--Tom Seaver
The Twins have a number of wildly streaky hitters. Perhaps every team does, I don't know. My attention to other teams generally doesn't extend past how they play the Twins, whether their results are helping or hurting the standing of the Twins, and whether or not they're beating the Bankees and the Whine Sox.

But Mauer? Mauer's pretty steady. Every player has little slumps and little hot streaks, and he's no exception. When I say "wildly streaky", I mean weeks hitting within spitting distance of the Mendoza line, followed by weeks hitting like Ted Williams, with only rare bursts of normalcy in between. And on any given day, you don't know if you're getting Mendoza or Williams. With Mauer, you're pretty sure you're getting Mauer.

His .353 currently leads the team in batting average, and that's no surprise. Nor are his .446 OBP (far and away the team leader), his 16 walks, his 10 doubles, his .927 OPS, his low strikeout rate, his 14 RBI.

But I'm talking about consistency, and you can compile those numbers in streaks. How about the fact that the numbers he's putting up this year look a lot like the ones he put up last year? That's a start.

In 28 games this season, he's gone hitless in only seven. Once he had back-to-back hitless games...with two walks in each game. He's had three three-hit games and more 2-hit games than I'm willing to squint at the game log to count. His season low average thus far is .324, which he dropped to on April 13th. His season-low OBP of .375 also came on that day.

Speaking of OBP and average, he's had the highest of any starting player on the team in every full season he's played thus far. He's also taken the most walks. Good swing, good eye, great hitter.

Consistency. Gotta love it. Gonna miss it.

So are the Twins doomed without Mauer? Of course not. There are still at least 22 major-league players on that 25-man roster. But trying to work through a slump in a tough division just got a whole lot harder. The guys who have gotten off to a slow start don't have the luxury of time and space and patience any longer. There's a great, gaping hole in the lineup and either it gets plastered over or the Twins lose ground they'll find it difficult to make up down the stretch.

Up next, the Whine Sox (14-14, .500) at the Twins (16-15, .516).


CWS - Javier Vazquez, RHP (2-1, 4.02)
MIN - Boof Bonser, RHP (0-1, 4.55)

CWS - John Danks, LHP (0-4, 5.02)
MIN - Ramon Ortiz, RHP (3-2, 3.23)

CWS - Jose Contreras, RHP (2-3, 4.88)
MIN - Carlos Silva, RHP (2-2, 2.75)

3 rejoinders:

BabyBanana sounded off...



(and Ha! "Whine Sox")

Anonymous sounded off...

At least Hunter is hot. But how nice it would be to have both of them, sigh.


Anonymous sounded off...

A nice one on red dog too.